TREK Masbate: Hope and Love

December 23, 2019 Voluntourism

“Magsisimula na naman po kami. Kayo po ang inspiration naming makatayo muli. May kasabihan, kung san tayo humina, dun tayo magsisimula.” (“We have to start again. You are our inspiration to start anew. There is a saying, we get up where we fall.")

This was the highlight of the speech delivered by Merly Aque, the principal of Malacbalac Elementary School, to the volunteers of our group, TRails to Empower Kids (or TREK).

The school, located in Claveria, Masbate, in the island of Burias, was one of the many casualties of Typhoon Tisoy, which ravaged the country less than a week before the outreach.

When we started planning our outreach, all we wanted was to celebrate our group’s 12thAnniversary and bring Christmas joys to our chosen community. 

I was in Kaohsuing when Tisoy hit the country, and I hoped against hope that Barangay San Vicente, where the school is located, would be spared. But Martin, the volunteer who sponsored this outreach, confirmed through photos our worst fears. 

It was heartbreaking, but I also realized that everything is providential. 

Malacbalac Elementary School

Martin spent some of his elementary school years in Malacbalac Elementary School. He shared to us that it was in this school he learned to love and dream.

I can say that Martin’s fondness of this school, his adoptive parents, and the community grew on me. As our usual host, John Rex Jardinero, would always say,Minahal na naming kayo bago naming kayo nakilala." ("We loved you even before we met you.”)

So, even prior to our recon’s team assessment, my heart was already for the anniversary outreach in Malacbalac Elementary School. Based on Martin’s stories, Malacbalac Elementary School fits the profile of what the group usually chooses as site for our projects – isolated, in need of help, and underserved. 

When our recon team visited, they noted the insufficiency of the books of the school. Only one volume of encyclopedia donated by an alumna sits on its bookshelves. They have several monitors but only one working CPU. They do not have electricity and rely only on solar power. They have limited access to clean water. They have students classified as wasted or malnourished. Needless to say, they lacked school supplies. They confirmed the site. 

So, the school was already in need to begin with; Tisoy just made their situation worse.

Preparing for the Outreach

Tisoy also made also coordination more difficult. Phone lines were cut. Boats were damaged. Some roads blocked. 

Up to the day we were supposed to leave for the outreach, we could not confirm the boat to Burias Island. We felt relieved when Martin confirmed that the boat we initially contracted can still take us to the island. But after 12 hours of travel from Manila to the port in Pio Duran, we found out they were not able to finish the repairs on the boat.

After around five hours of waiting, a bigger vessel they call Batil agreed to take us the island. 

It took us around six hours on rough seas. Tisoy also destroyed the light house, which made finding the place where we could dock more difficult. We had to transfer to the smaller vessel tugging the boat to reach the island, which was the scariest part of the whole journey because of the big waves. 

When we disembarked, community members were there to help us navigate the sharp rocks on the beach. There were also some motorcycles waiting for us, sparing us from the walk from the beach to the school grounds.

In the school, we were welcome by Ma’am Merly and the teachers. They had hot meals waiting for us.

As soon as we finished dinner, we freshened up, then started repacking. None of our volunteers opted to rest. We finished around 3:00 AM.

The Handover Program

The following day, despite the 24 hours of travel and a long night of repacking, the volunteers were up early. Community members have also started to arrive to prepare the kids’ lunches.

It was in the morning when we all got to see the severe damage of the school.  Roofs were destroyed. Classrooms were stripped. Chairs were broken. Yet amidst the destruction, everyone looked hopeful and joyful. It was clear that we brought more than gifts to the community, but hope.

We did our usual program. We started with artwork-making with the kids. 

Then the school had a little program that included the awarding of certificates to all the volunteers, then we played games. We had games - not just for the kids but also for the parents. Laughter filled the entire program area. One wouldn’t think that just a few days before that, people were wailing out of fear.

There was a surprise commemoration of my birthday.  

TREK has been always been part of my birthday celebrations.  It is also my 12th year of doing this.

While the program was ongoing, our other volunteers were in the kitchen preparing the everyone’s lunch. The kids’ parents were also there to help.

Before 1:00 PM, lunch for all 400 people was ready, and we all feasted.  It was so heartwarming to see parents and their kids sharing meals with each other. and to see kids helping their younger siblings eat. 

After lunch, we started distributing the kids’ backpacks, school supplies, hygiene kits, slippers, and toys. Earlier, when it drizzled, we went ahead and distributed distributed the umbrellas. 

After that, it was the teachers’ turns to receive gifts.  They also got their backpacks, school supplies, make-ups, and Noche Buena packs. They also received, on the school’s behalf, our other donations, including construction materials, whiteboard, chairs, table, water pipes, stove, sports equipment, computer, and projector.

Then, the parents and the high-school kids who volunteered to help us received our thank you gifts. We gave them canned goods, blankets, solar lamps, and backpacks. Since we didn’t have enough of the items, we raffled most of them.

During all of these, I had a little chat with some of the moms. They told me that the day Tisoy came, the howl of the winds sounded like the horns of a ship. It was accompanied by whistles and slight tremors. I could just imagine the terror.

We capped the day with another meal. We had spaghetti with some of the parents and kids. That was one of their requests.

Side Trip

After our program, we packed our bags and headed to Pahowaiian Beach Resort. It took another hour for the boat ride. 

We walked to the boat’s docking area and saw tthe rest of the village. It was not just the school that had been severely damaged.  I saw an entire roof blown off a house, fallen trees, and lots of damaged walls.

In Pahowaiian Beach Resort, which was also damaged by Tisoy, we had a chance to bond more with our fellow volunteers. We spent a night there to enjoy each other’s company, eat, and relax at the beach.

Around lunchtime, we left the resort. It was another six hours spent on the sea, but we had a  lighter load, in the boats and in our hearts, knowing we contributed a little to help ease the community’s hardships - and all thanks to the tireless volunteers of TREK, including those who helped us organize, our generous donors, and everyone else who supports our group.

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